‘B’ initiative gives coach more options says Gatt
The enticing race for the BOV Premier League title will be out the spotlight this week, making way for the national team and Malta U-21s in their commitments on the international scene.
The U-21 squad, under the charge of coach Silvio Vella, leave the islands this morning ahead of Thursday’s friendly against Luxembourg before playing Belgium in their opening UEFA Championship qualifier, in Louvain, on Monday.
Pietro Ghedin’s national team are in the run-in for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Slovakia at the National Stadium, still looking to chalk up their first points in Group F after four matches.
Both selections are bracing themselves for tough assignments as Malta FA Technical Director Robert Gatt remains hopeful that objectives will be reached in both categories.
“Personally, I look at the senior side and the U-21s with a different perspective,” Gatt told Times of Malta yesterday.
“We always expect good performances and satisfactory outcomes from the national team. This time coach Ghedin has a few players back in the squad after a long time and it will be interesting to see what impact they will leave.
“Slovakia is a difficult team to play against, we know that. However, hope always remain that the team follow the coach’s instructions and give a good account of themselves as at the end of the day they are representing the country.
“As regards the U-21s, results are also important but not the be-all and end-all as the focus here has always been to give the right formation to the young players who represent the future of our game.
“The MFA has invested a lot in the youth sector over the last few years and the results are starting to show. In the last qualifying campaign the team finished with a record haul of 11 points. So, hopefully, that could be the start of a bright future for the team.”
The U-21 selection named by Vella last week features eight players who are two or three years younger than the age-limit set for the competition.
Gatt reckons the experience of facing more mature players will serve the newcomers in good stead and help them maximise their potential as the competition progresses.
“Our football academy at Ta’ Qali has been scouring for the best youth talent on the islands for several years now and we are starting to reap the dividends of this useful exercise,” Gatt contended.
“The decision to introduce players from a younger age-group in the U-21 group may have raised a few eyebrows at first.
“However, the programme we have in place allows successful players to figure in around 40 international matches before they reach a point where they could make the grade for the national team.”
The very positive showings by Vella’s lads last year are testimony that the programme is working well.
“Hopefully, these players will continue to work hard with their coach and develop their talents so when the time comes they will make the leap in quality,” Gatt said.
Last week, Ghedin named 22 players in an experimental Malta ‘B’ squad. The objective behind this initiative is to provide the national coach with more options and a wider selection of players that could be in contention for future selections.
“It was Pietro Ghedin who came up with this new idea,” Gatt said.
“During a meeting, he talked about ten other players who had failed to make the cut for the Slovakia qualifier but still deserved to be monitored more closely. There was agreement to increase the number to 18 and Malta ‘B’ was created.
“These players will have two training sessions with Ghedin this week. We all believe that this exercise will be a great source of motivation for the ones selected as they will feel they form part of the future of the national team.
“It also provides Ghedin with a bigger and more solid platform from where to determine his final selection ahead of international matches.”